Basing pay policy on unique exceptions is foolish
Unlike Terrence Wise, most fast food workers advance rapidly
Last week, Fight for $15 protesters engaged in yet another round of coordinated restaurant protests in major cities across the country. The group gets no points for originality. Like previous protests, activists put up Terrence Wise, a fast food employee from Kansas City, as the face of the campaign. And like his previous appearances, Mr. Wise is still struggling to get ahead while supporting his family on a starter wage job.
We first met Mr. Wise four years ago. A New York Times profile suggested he was living partially homeless after working in fast food for 20 years. Since then he has been used in dozens of articles as the poster child for the need to raise the minimum wage.
Mr. Wise is not your typical starter wage employee. Not least of which because, according to Diana Furchtgott-Roth at the Manhattan Institute, he is represented by Danny Massey, a senior vice president at the Manhattan public relations firm Berlin Rosen. The Service Employees International Union paid that firm $1.7 million last year for its work on the Fight for $15.
The turnover of fast food employment is roughly 150 percent each year. Yet Mr. Wise has been working in the industry for roughly a quarter-century. Did he not notice the hundreds of his colleagues gaining work experience and then leaving for greener pastures over this time frame?
The media never asks that basic question. They almost never inquire into the circumstances that lead to situations that make someone the image of a minimum wage campaign.
Two separate academic studies show that two-thirds of starter wage employees earn a raise within their first year on the job. The people who are stuck at an entry-level wage are there for a reason. Some have anger, attendance, language, appearance or personal hygiene issues. Millions of employees have been held back because of their own behavior and refusal to conform or change.
Societal norms dictate that people are generally responsible for their own decisions — especially those that prevent them from advancing in the world of work. As the ancient Greeks knew, “The Lord helps those who help themselves.”
Maybe those who don’t get ahead have a disability not of their making. As a caring society we generally help those who have drawn life’s short straw. However, it is a broad-based empathy. We don’t mandate that their employer, their neighbor or their family provide them with charitable help.
Whatever the reason someone stays in a starter job, it’s important to note that they are in the vast minority. The median hourly wage in the country is more than $23. Most people don’t need wage mandates to increase their pay. And most starter wage employees are 24 years of age or younger — the vast majority of whom will have no trouble earning raises on their own as they get more experience and skills.
Big Labor has learned that the best way to advance their agenda is by portraying edge cases as emblematic of broader societal indictments: Turn the black swan into the norm.
However, public policy should not be made based on these exceptions to the rule. And if anyone is an exception to the rule, it’s Terrence Wise.
Ironically, it’s the employment aberrations who are most likely to be hurt by the Fight for $15. They are the ones who, for some personal reason, are the least valued in the job market. They are first to get laid off when employers adjust expenses to remain in business. (Visit Facesof15.com for specific stories.) As employers shift to more affordable technology or self-service, they are the ones who struggle the most to find a replacement job.
And the employees who are retained and receive mandated raises? They are the ones who would have gotten them on their own anyway.
The well-established rule (outside of the discredited Soviet experience) is that people are paid based on their value to an employer. Their value doesn’t change when they have five kids. It’s true that sometimes people are paid less than what they need. But jobs don’t pay based on need. What pays based on need? Welfare. Society has dozens of programs to help fill the gap between what people can command and what they need.
But by continuing to showcase employment aberrations like Terrence Wise, progressive activists conflate employment with welfare, creating less of the former and more of the latter.
Whatever the reason someone stays in a starter job, it’s important to note that they are in the vast minority.